Monday, 23 December 2013

The only way isn't Essex for James Tomkins

News that will make Hayden Foxe well jel and Big Sam wonder if he's being mugged off. West Ham's James Tomkins has been arrested after a fracas outside the Towie haunt of Sugar Hut nightclub in Brentwood at 00.30am on Sunday morning. Tomkins had earlier played in West Ham's 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Seems Tomka was refused entry and the Old Bill were called. He was later charged with one count of assaulting a police officer, one count of resisting arrest and one count of being drunk and disorderly in a public place. Tomkins also appears on the Hammers advent calendar video advocating sensible drinking. You really couldn't make it up… 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

2013: Another vintage year for Essex

My review of Essex in 2013 can be found on the Robson Press website. You can also pick up my book The Joy of Essex there for £4.99 as part of the Robson Press's Secret Santa offer. Here's the text:

It’s hard for Essex to keep a low profile at any time and in the year since the publication of my book The Joy of Essex, Britain’s most iconic county has not disappointed.
Russell Brand certainly shook up politics after his appearance on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman, where he advocated not voting. He became a huge YouTube hit, edited an edition of the New Statesman and was described as “Britain’s biggest hypocrite” by The Sun.
Brand used much of the self-deprecating wit identified in The Joy of Essex for a subsequent Guardian piece: “It’s easy to attack me, I’m a right twerp, I’m a junkie and a cheeky monkey, I accept it, but that doesn’t detract from the incontrovertible fact that we are living in a time of huge economic disparity and confronting ecological disaster.”
Perhaps many of the Oxbridge types laying into Brand were simply outraged that a geezer from Grays who is a former junkie turned out be a better writer than them. As Brand wrote: “I think these columnist fellas who give me aggro for not devising a solution or for using long words are just being territorial. When they say “long words” they mean “their words” like I’m a monkey who got in their Mum’s dressing up box or a hooligan in policeman’s helmet.”
Meanwhile Chelmsford’s Grayson Perry was trending on Twitter with his BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures. Indeed he was, he said, the first “Essex transvestite potter" to deliver the Lectures. There was an earthy Essex spin to his time at the podium, with Grayson “playing to the gallery and not sucking up to an urban elite” and “taking the piss out of Marxist intellectuals.” You don’t normally get laughs at a Reith Lecture but Perry in a dress made it all accessible and funny.
Another political figure from Essex, Billy Bragg, grew a beard and produced his best album in years, the country-influenced Tooth and Nail. Nobody Knows Nothing (“What happens when the markets drop?”) beautifully captured the confusion of the times, while Woody Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home sounded just as relevant today. Perhaps the future for British politics is a Brand/Bragg/Perry coalition?
Essex also took the blogging honours with Southend’s Jack Monroe being billed as “austerity’s poster girl” after the success of her blog agirlcalledjack.com. She wrote like a modern-day George Orwell about the psychological effects of poverty while living as a single mum on benefits. Her recipes on how to feed herself and her son on £10 a week were published by Penguin and she earned a column in the Guardian, with the added bonus of winding up the Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn.
On Channel 4 Jonathan Meades half-inched my book title but produced a compellingly verbose and beautifully filmed documentary on the county in The Joy of Essex. Meades covered Victorian utopian communities, the derelict Bata factory at East Tilbury, the Crittall windows of Silver End, the sex life of Barking MP Tom Driberg, and the melancholy of the marshland where “everything returns to the immemorial ooze”.
In fashion, the Guardian’s Paula Cocozza wrote a three-page feature in G2 on “the Brentwood aesthetic”, describing how the Towie-look has taken over the country. Those sporting the Towie-look (thick dark eyebrows, false lashes, blusher, natural coloured lips, fake tan, etc) were said to include the Duchess of Cambridge (eyebrows only), Mary Berry (“Essex Nan”), Paris Hilton, Nigella Lawson, Queen Elizabeth 1 (a lot of slap), the original Barbie Doll and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
And speaking of Towie, Joey Essex starred in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! He might have needed help from Amy Willerton telling the time, but Joey showed an Essex Man’s self-starting ability to get stuck in to the bushtucker trials, winning ten meals for his team. Joey’s dad Donald, who with his shaved head looked like a proper Essex geezer, became an unlikely media star in The Sun, with his somewhat direct views on romance with Amy: "I think it’s obvious he fancies her. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent and she’s lovely. So he should steam in there!”
In 2013 we also learned that the Chigwell-set Birds of a Feather was returning, while the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre hosted hit play Barking in Essex, starring Lee Evans, Keeley Hawes and Sheila Hancock.
On a sadder note, at the start of the year former Dr Feelgood legend Wilko Johnson was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given six months to live, but gave a series of inspiring interviews and sustained by the love shown on his farewell tour is thankfully still with us. Wilko does it right.
While on a personal level I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has bought copies of The Joy of Essex and attended my events at the Essex Book Festival in Colchester and Billericay and the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. It’s been another great year for God’s Own County.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Life's a riot with Bragg versus Brand…

Saw a fine set from Billy Bragg at the Royal Festival Hall last night, with a cold-ridden Bragg displaying his usual range of styles from playing with a pedal-steel guitar and country band to solo songs with acoustic and electric guitars.

The show featured a mention of his home county and line dancing during a speel about going country and how the only twang he had was Essex. And also an inter-county dispute with Russell Brand. Bragg couldn’t agree with Brand about not voting, saying that although “there might only be an inch between Labour and the Tories that inch makes a difference to thousands of people”. He sneaked in a nice change to the lyrics of Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards with: “One step forwards two steps back/ will Russell Brand get me the sack?”

William Bloke also mentioned his grandfather walking from Barking to Buckingham Palace to sign up for the First World War in the introduction to Between the Wars and two of his most moving songs were tributes to his late parents, Tank Park Salute and Goodbye. He also impressed my 15-year-old daughter who thought Handyman Blues could have been written about her dad. 

Spent most of my life growing up with Bragg, so it was lovely to hear some of his older numbers like You Woke Up My Neighbourhood and New England alongside great new songs like No one Knows Nothing Anymore and There Will Be a Reckoning. All interspersed with the usual Bragg wit on being hip again (“Nowadays there’s lots of 25-year-old blokes with beards wanting to sound like Woody Guthrie and wishing they were 55!”) and sage advice to never trust anyone who has no doubts, “as they’re either an evangelist or a Trotskyist trying to sell you a paper.” Long may he continue. 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Joey of Essex

Good to see Joey Essex proving adept at fighting off crabs and critters on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! He might have needed help from Amy Willerton telling the time, but Joey has shown an Essex Man's self-starting ability to get stuck in to the Bushtucker trials, winning ten meals for his team. And now we find Joey's dad Donald, who with his shaved head looks like a proper Essex geezer, emerging with a pithy summary of his boy's achievements. He told the Sun about the time Joey was let go from Billingsgate fish market and was told he was 'useless': “What could I say? I had to agree — Joey is bloody useless. I call it living on ‘Planet Joey’. Even I’ve been gobsmacked. I mean, I didn’t know he couldn’t tell the time and as for not knowing how to blow your nose, I’m embarrassed to be honest. Joey’s a one-off. You won’t find another like him, believe me." And commenting on any possible romance with Amy, Donald suggests the, ahem, direct approach favoured on Brentwood High Street: "I think it's obvious he fancies her. She's beautiful she's intelligent and she's lovely. So he should steam in there! Good luck Joey."

Friday, 15 November 2013

Austerity's poster girl in Southend

Good interview with cookery blogger Jack Monroe in the Evening Standard this week and a nice shot of her on the Southend seafront too. "Austerity's poster girl" gives some great answers to the criticism of Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail, pointing out she never chose to live on benefits, being forced to leave her job in a fire station because she couldn't work night shifts with a young baby. In fact through her blog agirlnamedjack.com she's now earning a living writing about food and has created her own job. A credit to the county and not deserving of nasty journalism. Click on the clink to read the interview in full.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Brand recognition

Essex man Russell Brand has become a YouTube hit and made the front page of the Guardian with his arguments for a new politics. Though I can’t agree with not voting, he makes some great points and uses much of the Essex wit featured in my chapter on Essex Humour in The Joy of Essex.

Firstly there’s the self-deprecation: “It's easy to attack me, I'm a right twerp, I'm a junkie and a cheeky monkey, I accept it, but that doesn't detract from the incontrovertible fact that we are living in a time of huge economic disparity and confronting ecological disaster.”

Then there’s the sarcasm: “Banks that have grown by 30% since the crisis and are experiencing record profits and giving their execs record bonuses. How about, hang on to your hats because here comes a naïve suggestion, don't give them that money, use it to create one million jobs at fifty grand a year for people who teach, nurse or protect.”
And you also feel that many of the Oxbridge types laying into Brand are simply outraged that a bloke from Grays who is a former junkie turns out be a better writer than them. As Brand writes: “I think these columnist fellas who give me aggro for not devising a solution or for using long words are just being territorial. When they say "long words" they mean "their words" like I'm a monkey who got in their Mum's dressing up box or a hooligan in policeman's helmet.”

Perhaps it’s time for am Essex coalition government formed by Russell Brand, Billy Bragg and Grayson Perry?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

No Place To Call Home

Just finished reading Katharine Quarmby's No Place To Call Home which has a lot  of interviews on the Dale Farm gypsy evictions — which ultimately seem to have achieved little at great expense, as many families are still living by the site in worse conditions. She looks at the history of persecution against gypsies and travellers and the book is eye-opening about society's fear of travellers and how in 18th century Britain you could be executed simply for being a gypsy (men by hanging, women by drowning). And how many people realise that half a million gypsies were killed by the Nazis?

Nor is No Place To Call Home a woolly liberal romantic apology for anti-social behaviour. The book makes it clear that some of the crusties at the Dale Farm eviction made things things worse. And that in any community there can be some bad people,while in a self-policing community arguments can sometimes be settled by the strongest fists. But statistically gypsies are not involved in crime any more than any other group and incidents of racism against them are rarely reported because they are not taken seriously.

At times the book is reminiscent of John Pilger writing about Australia's hidden racism against the Aborigines. It makes a moving appeal for decent sites for gypsies and travellers, respect and tolerance rather than relying on rumour and suspicion. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Just an everyday Essex transvestite potter

Good to see "Essex tranvestite potter" Grayson Perry trending on Twitter with his BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures. There's an earthy Essex spin to his time at the podium: "Playing to the gallery and not sucking up to an urban elite" and "taking the piss out of Marxist intellectuals." You don't normally get laughs at a Reith Lecture but Perry in a dress makes it all accessible and funny. And not content with that he's opened the only shop in the village in Wrabness last week…

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Brentwood aesthetic

There's a three-page feature on how the Towie-look has taken over the country in the Guardian, entitled "The Only Way is Excess". Paula Cocozza visits Amy Childs in her Brentwood salon in search of the "Brentwood aesthetic". (Though chances are if you asked about aesthetics in Brentwood High Street most people would direct you to Harold Wood Hospital…) Cocozza has some good points about how the look has gone mainstream and is in part a tribute to black fashion, while pointing out that Childs "is beautiful, but damned because the Towie aesthetic is roundly mocked". Those sporting the Towie-look (thick dark eyebrows, false lashes, blusher, natural coloured lips, fake tan, etc) include the Duchess of Cambridge (eyebrows only), Mary Berry ("Essex Nan"), Paris Hilton, Nigella Lawson, Queen Elizaberh 1 (a lot of slap), the original Barbie Doll, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, the Spice Girls and Jane Fonda in Barbarella. Click on the link to read. Brentwood has only gone and started an aesthetic. Shu' up!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Beyond the Point


Ran into Canvey bloggers Joe and Liam from the award-winning Beyond The Point at the Essex Record Office open-day. The local history-lovers started Beyond the Point in 2011 when they were 14 and it’s a fascinating exploration of historical sites in Canvey Island and south-east Essex. The videos posted by Liam and Joe really capture the joy of exploring derelict tunnels and buildings.

Explorations on the site include, the Occidental Oil Refinery on Canvey, Hadleigh Castle, the Coalhouse Fort at East Tilbury, a secret nuclear bunker in Benfleet (though it couldn’t have taken a full scale attack), the Devil’s Steps in Thundersley Glen and they’ve recently even ventured over the river to Kent’s coastal forts and the Cliffe Explosives factory. They’ve found Roman pottery and Victorian horse buckles on Canvey and a live bullet under Southend Pier. The site has really useful interactive maps too. Click on the link to read.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Barking in Essex

Finally caught Barking in Essex at the Wyndham’s Theatre last week. There aren’t many plays in the West End where you can hear 80-year-old Sheila Hancock liberally using the ‘c’ word. There’s a guilty delight to it, but this is also part of the play’s problem. A great cast just can’t overcome the weak material. The late Clive Exton’s play feels unfinished and hewn from crude stereotypes. Yes, exiled Barking folk might swear, but not every ****ing sentence.

Bank robber Algie Packer is coming out of jail, only his mum Emmie (Sheila Hancock) and sister-in-law Chrissie (Keeley Hawes) have spent all the dosh, unbeknown to Archie’s dopey brother Darnley (Lee Evans). Then Algie’s lover Allegra (Montserrat Lombard, aka Shazza in Life on Mars) turns up, a hitman gets involved and it all becomes Birds of a Feather meets The Long Good Friday.

The cast certainly give it a go. Star of the show is Karl Johnson who plays decrepit hitman Rocco in the fashion of a forgetful handyman. Keeley Hawes looks great in her Towie gear and has worked hard at her glottal stops, but makes her part rather too aggressive to be properly believable. Lee Evans pulls some epic bemused faces and does a fine comic turn describing his appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Hancock enjoys playing the East End matriarch and the set is impressively naff too, with a framed West Ham shirt, neon juke box and giant pink hand in the living room.

But the problem lies in the writing. In Birds of a Feather you cared about Sharon and Tracey because they were likeable, but here you are just not too concerned about the characters. And even if it is intended as a farce, surely a comedy should never end with murder? Another objection is that the play is simply rather patronising to the good people of Essex. There’s none of the local wit and everyone is incredibly thick. Do all Essex girls shag over the bonnet of a car? And would Darnley really be stupid enough to marry his half-sister?

The earthy dialogue does at times raise some laughs from the audience, but overall it’s a waste of a strong cast. Estuary Essex should be great material for a satire, but this is something of a missed opportunity. 

Click on the link for ticket details. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Novel ideas in Billericay

Good night last Friday at the Speed Dating for Writers session at Billericay Library. Twenty writers and publishers gathered to dispense advice to anyone who wanted to write a book. Clearly a lot of people in Billericay have a book in them and we had locals with ghost stories set on Scottish islands, romances, memoirs, self-help tomes, children's books, science fiction ideas and novels sitting in bedroom drawers. This writer was offering tips (don't do it for the money but do have an elevator pitch) alongside Syd Moore from Leigh, whose ghost stories Witch Hunt (set in Manningtree) and The Drowning Pool (set in Leigh-on-Sea) are well worth a look and ex-Melody Maker man and music book writer Brain Southall. Thanks to Belinda and Jules for keeping the evening going with white wine and crisps and good luck to all the aspiring writers in Essex.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Speed Dating in Billericay

"I ain't a bleedin' thickie…" I'm in the home town of Billericay Dickie this Friday, Sept 20, at Billericay Library as part of the Speed Dating For Writers section of the Essex Book Festival. The event starts at 7.30pm, click on the link for deails. It's a chance for would-be writers to come along and talk to published writers about how to get published and survive selling words. Writers appearing include Karen Bowman, Daryl Easlea, David Evans, Maggie Freeman, Julie Irwin, Peter Jones, Bernadine Kennedy, Sylvia Kent, Julian Lemel, Elizabeth Lord, Syd Moore and Rik Stone, plus publishers, journalists and editors. Should be a great evening in a town famed famed for the Norsey Woods bluebells, the end of the Peasants' Revolt and Ian Dury's memorable Essex Lothario.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Live at the ERO

Thanks to everyone at the Essex Record Office who attended my talk on The Joy of Essex on Saturday. A packed Lecture Theatre and hopefully the PowerPoint pictures of Sugar Hut in its days as a coaching inn and the ERO's parchment documents referring to the Peasants' Revolt went down well. Lord Petre from Ingatestone Hall was there cutting the cake and thanks to Hannah Salisbury for doing a great job organising my visit and providing sandwiches and crisps in the green room. The audience included my old schoolfriend Alison's mum Val and an old farmer mate of my Dad's, plus some interesting questions on Warley Mental Hospital (and check out the ERO's poignant records and photos of the hospital's patients in 1897). The after-gig party saw us perusing Charles 1st's Bible, Lord Petre's music from 1600 and the the pictured map of ancient Chelmsford, complete with barrow in Barrow Field, on the archive floor. And frighteningly my performance was recorded as part of the archive… as close to posterity as this writer will get!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Essex Record Office Open Day

For an Essex lad it's a bit like playing Wembley. This Saturday, Sept 14, I'll be presenting a 45-minute talk based around The Joy of Essex at the Essex Record Office Open Day in Wharf Road, Chelmsford. The ERO is celebrating 75 years of preserving Essex archives in its eight miles of shelves. I'll be concentrating on the history included in The Joy of Essex and plan to bring in the Peasants' Revolt at Brentwood, Dickens and the Olde Kings Head in Chigwell, Tilbury Fort, what the Romans did for Colchester, Essex new towns, Paul Simon dating an Essex girl, Dr Feelgood and Canvey Island, Southend Pier and the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch. The open day is from 10am-4pm and I'll be speaking at 1.30pm. Do come along and peruse some of the ERO's ancient artefacts, possibly including this writer, down by the banks of the Chelmer. Click on the link for details.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Joy of Essex at Gillespie Park

Thanks to everyone who bought copies of The Joy of Essex at the Gillespie Park Festival in Islington on Sunday. Here's a picture of me and Her Indoors on the writers stall, with The Joy of Essex on the right. And surprising how many Islingtonites had links with God's own county…

Monday, 9 September 2013

Jamie no mockney rebel

And still on accents, Jamie Oliver denies being a mockney in the Guardian. In the Family Values column he comments:

I grew up in a pub in Clavering, Essex. When I was first on telly in The Naked Chef, people thought I was a mockney, that I was posh and had gone to private school. But I went to a comprehensive and my parents, Trevor and Sally, weren't middle class; they were publicans. That's where my estuary accent comes from.


Indeed, Jamie's so Essex that in Jamie's Great Britain he famously claimed to have been conceived at the end of Southend Pier  — was it a 30-minute recipe we wonder? Click on the link to read the whole piece.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Hawes on Essex

A recent piece in the Observer on Keeley Hawes discusses her role in the new play Barking in Essex. It makes putting on an Essex accent seem like a tremendous feat of thespian skill… The piece reads: 


If it is hard to imagine Hawes's mellifluous accent mangling estuary English and foul-mouthed tirades, then that is a testament to her acting. She may be familiar as Lady Agnes Holland in Upstairs Downstairs (or, to another demographic, as the plummy voice of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider video game), but she is the daughter of a London cabbie.
Her voice is the result of a decade of elocution lessons that started at the Sylvia Young theatre school in Marylebone, and included putting a pencil in her mouth to perfect her vowels. The change has become so ingrained that when Hawes was cast as Jason Statham's wife, called, perfectly, Wendy Leather, in the 2008 film The Bank Job, she needed training to regress her accent.
"There are lots of actors who are posh and stick with that and there are lots of actors who are cockney and that's what they do," she says. "That's fine, but I don't think that could be said about me. I just happen to have played a lot of people who speak properly. So it was kind of thrilling when I started this play. It feels a bit naughty and I was like, 'Fackin' hell! Oh my gawd, what's me mum gonna say?'"
I've regressed my accent without any training… Click on the link to read the whole interview. Sounds like a nice gel, as Mark Wright might put it.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Come to South Woodham Ferrers

Check out this brilliant 1981 promotional film advocating the joys of South Woodham Ferrers, posted on YouTube by the Essex Record Office. Featuring an insanely catchy jingle, it's a paean to a "country town" that even Alan Partridge couldn't better… I'll be mentioning it in my talk at the Essex Record Office Open Day on September 14. Click on the link to play. Three miles of creek frontage! We hope we have aroused your interest. A whole new place to be…

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Record-breaking in Chelmsford

Thanks to Hannah Salisbury and all at the Essex Record Office for a great tour of their eight miles of archives. Situated in Wharf Road, down by the Dr Feelgood-esque backwaters of the River Chelmer, the ERO has thousands of fascinating Essex documents. 

We pondered old Victorian maps of Brentwood, photos of defunct Essex cinemas, saw King Charles the First's Bible and ancient parchment from 1381 detailing the penalties imposed after the Peasants' Revolt, that started in Brentwood (make your own jokes here). Quite sensibly, the Peasants burned all the manorial records, wiping out any poll tax claims. It's fascinating that Essex Man had an eye for the main chance even then. The ERO's Katharine Schofield  showed me the court records from Abbess Roding detailing a payment of 12d as the expenses of the bailiff and two men sent to Writtle to recover a cow taken during the revolt. Dodgy characters Richard and Joseph Herde had also taken the chance to nick eight pieces of timber, a pair of double harrow with rings and clasps of iron and four cartloads of hay… 

The ERO also has a sound and video archive including Paul Simon playing at a Brentwood folk club and an amazing jingle enticing residents to South Woodham Ferrers. I'll be talking about my book The Joy of Essex as part of the ERO's open day on September 14 — it's also going to be filmed and will go into the eight miles of archives. Posterity beckons… 


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Essex torch and twang

Well kosher piece on the cockney dialect migrating to Essex and the evolving language of the East End in the Guardian. Though still not sure what nang means. Writer Nikesh Shukla makes some great points about how cockney has always been influenced by immigration:

Think about how much of cockney comes from different languages anyway, like Yiddish ("kosher"), German ("shtoom"), Romany ("wonga"). My mum always said that loads of cockney came from Hindi. "Pukka" is from the Hindi, meaning solid. "Blighty" is from the Hindi bilati, meaning foreign land. "Bandana" is from the Hindi bandhana, to tie. "Cushti", again, from the Hindi khush, or happy. Bish-bash-bosh ... No one knows where that one comes from. Except Danny Dyer.

Click on the link to have a butchers at the whole piece.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Happy Jack in Southend

Great piece on Southend blogger Jack Monroe in the Guardian. She writes like a modern-day George Orwell about the psychological effects of poverty while living as a single mum on benefits in her blog agirlcalledjack.com. Her recipes on how to feed herself and your son on £10 a week were a huge hit too and are going to be published by Penguin, earning her a £25k advance (advances are split in to three chunks by the way and don't make you instantly rich). She's also now a trainee journalist at the Southend Echo and offers an inspiring tale on how to improve your life through the power of words. Click on the link to read.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Wilko alive and gigging

Great to see Wilko Johnson still with us and performing songs like Paradise to 30,000 people in Chalkwell, Southend, at the Village Green Festival (short video of his set on the link). A fitting farewell to the Thames Delta. Also check out his thoughts on mortality in this Guardian interview. He does it right.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Edgeland made me…

My pal Katie, an exiled Romfordian, enthuses about the brilliant film The Outer Edges she's just seen at the East London Film Festival. It's by Karl Hyde (one half of Underworld and a product of Romford too) and director Kieran Evans. Katie writes: "It is a bit Iain Sinclair-ish and a bit Patrick Keiller-ish, but more down to earth than both of those. I just loved it - totally beautiful - the best film I've seen on East London/Essex." Check out the YouTube clip and interactive Outer Edges map, on the links, plus a great performance by Karl Hyde of 8 Ball at the Union Chapel. The film covers Dagenham, Tilbury, Barking, Grays and all those edgy places by the Thames that are rarely filmed. And there's a solo Karl Hyde album Edgeland to go with the film.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Barking in Essex: may contain nutters

Proof that Essex is more on trend than ever. Lee Evans, Keeley Hawes and Sheila Hancock star in the forthcoming play Barking in Essex at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End in September. It involves bankrobbers, miniskirts and medallions, so may contain more than few Essex cultural cliches, but the cast looks promising. Click on the link for details.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Essex Boys have the cutting edge

Found this barber shop in the cutting edge quarter of Chelmsford. Would the name work for any other county? Kent Boys? Northamptonshire Boys? Gloucestershire Boys? Exactly. Proof that as brands go Essex is top of the barbershop quartet charts. And you come out looking a right geezer, so I believe.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Birds of a Feather returns

Article in yesterday's Guardian on the return of Birds of a Feather and how Sharon and Tracey might cope in Towie's Essex. I expect Darryl is running a club by now and Sharon's moved into tanning salons... Wonder if they'll film in Sheesh and other Chigwell hotspots? Click on the link to read.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Who in Essex

Just found the first mention of Essex in Doctor Who, In the 1964 story The Keys of Marinus Ian Chesterton looks at the Tardis scanner showing the sandy planet of Marinus and declares "Well, it doesn't look like Southend!" Colchester also gets a mention in the Matt Smith era when Amy and Rory move there and the cybermen turn up, while Donna Noble also reveals to David Tennant's Doctor that she learned to whistle up West Ham.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Doctoring an Essex shed

Essex, sheds and Doctor Who all in one story... perfect. Tardis shed created by David Lifton from Chelmsford (whose lucky son is a Whovian) and a finalist in the Shed of the Year 2013 competition...

Friday, 7 June 2013

Stour house: The joy of Manningtree

Spent a great day in Manningtree last weekend. Constable country was looking glorious and thanks to my wife Nicola's relatives Diana and Eugenie for sustenance and entertainment. It's got a bit of everything, great views across the Stour estuary, some fine converted maltings, two Robert Adam towers from the old church, swans, a hut that was swept there in the 1953 floods and a great pub in the Red Lion, where you're allowed to bring in kids, dogs and takeaways. Good beer and chilli and honey roasted peanuts too.

And you can see the pond where infamous former Manningtree resident and witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins had his ducking stool. Hopkins was the ultimate Essex conman, paid per result, he inevitably produced more witches than he could shake a broomstick at. He was active during the English Civil War. Within a year Parliament was questioning his methods and thankfully he died young, at 27, in 1647 and is buried at Mistley.

On a lighter note, there's some fine footpaths behind the town through the   woods and fields, all oaks, cow parsley and buttercups. All this and it's only an hour from Liverpool Street on the train. We plan to return via train soon and walk to Dedham and Flatford Mill and, of course, sample more of Manningtree's delis and pubs…

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Duckpond FC… by far the greatest team that Harwich has ever seen

Nice example of Essex humour from Duckpond FC, the Sunday League side from Harwich that spent £1000 hiring an open-top bus tour to celebrate winning the Colchester and District Sunday League. The Harwich locals turned out in their tens…

Friday, 31 May 2013

Give Tilbury a Fort

Spent a great day out with my family at Tilbury Fort last weekend. It's an unexpected treasure positioned between the power station and piles of containers. There's three pages on the Fort in The Joy of Essex. Manager Kevin Diver gave me an after hours tour and wasn't able to unlock everything while I was writing the book, but I should now add that the officers' rooms are really atmospheric with their old fireplaces and floorboards, the museum has some great letters and artefacts and that it's great to step inside the tunnels and rooms inside the magazines (told you we had magazines somewhere in Essex!). These rooms were cells at one period, housing Jacobite prisoners as well as gunpowder and shells. Tlbury also has lots of slopes for kids to roll down and great sweeping views across the Thames to Gravesend and is built in a distinctive star shape known as a bastion fort. The shop does a fine line in Dad's Army fridge magnets, marmalade and ice cream too. All this and a nice pint of Abbott in the World's End pub afterwards.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Done up like a Ukipper in Essex

Is there anyone left in politics not fixated with Essex Man? Friday's Evening Standard ran the headline, "Labour makes gains but has failed to win over Essex Man". While on the editorial pages Andrew Neather wrote that, "in grittier parts of Essex — Brentwood, Harlow, Epping — it was mainly Ukip not Labour that took votes off the Tories". In today's Guardian, John Harris writes that, 'Last week I spent time with Ukip in Essex… in such towns as Wickford, Bilerciacy and Rayleigh, the disaffection runs deep." Was there anyone in Essex last week who wasn't a journalist?

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Apprentice docks in Tilbury

The Apprentice is continuing its love affair with Essex. The new series starts next Tuesday on BBC and the first episode sees the  teams selling the contents of shipping containers in Tilbury. These include high-visibility jackets, cat litters and novelty waving "lucky cats". All this after last season's foray into jam-making at Wilkin & Son in Tiptree and selling fake tan in Romford. Seems like Lord Sugar thinks that if you can sell in Essex you can sell anywhere. Will the candidate who describes themselves as "like Napoleon" meet their Waterloo outside Tilbury Fort?

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Essex 1 Plymouth 0

America's Founding Fathers were Essex Boys, claims an article in the Daily Telegraph. (Click on the link to read.) New research from the Harwich Mayflower Project suggests that the Mayflower sailed from Harwich and only stopped at Plymouth for an hour to take on supplies. Yet it is Plymouth that has grabbed the glory for being the home of the Founding Fathers and hijacked the Mayflower. Hopefully Essex is not going to be mugged off any longer. Not only was Colchester once the capital of England, now we discover that Essex created the United States of America. No wonder President Obama supports West Ham.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The joy of Colchester united

Took the kids on a day trip to Colchester during the Eater holidays and what an underrated place it us. We started off with lunch at the Lemon Tree restaurant where you dine next to the 2000-year-old Roman wall in the basement. Then we visited the Balkerne Gate which has the best preserved Roman arch in Britain, Jumbo the giant water tower, and the outside of the castle (the interior is closed until 2014 for renovation). Then we found the monument to the two royalist commanders executed in the Castle Park and the Old Siege House where bullet holes from the English Civil War of 1648 are picked out with red rings around them.

Our party went on to the Firstsite art gallery, aka the "Golden Banana". The loitering goths outside are the best exhibit, but there's also resin sleeping bags and abandoned mattresses by artist Richard Hughes and a very good cafe that does cinnamon coffee and music that impressed my 14-year-old elder daughter. There's a chapter on Colchester in my book The Joy of Essex and the town also boasts an excellent independent bookshop in the Red Lion Bookshop, where the book is now in stock. What have the Romans ever done for Colchester? Quite a lot actually. All this, and it's the oldest town in Britain. Take that, Londinium. Proof that Essex should really be the capital of Britain.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher and Essex Man

Lots of mentions of Essex in the coverage of Margaret Thatcher's death. The BBC coverage featured Lord Sugar saying that "anyone from Essex" could become a dealer in the City, along with strike footage accompanied by a soundtrack of Barking's Billy Bragg singing Which Side Are You On? Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney was also included, a character who was the forerunner to Essex Man, billed as "Maggie's mauler" in Simon Heffer's original 1990 piece. And this morning Radio 5 was live from Basildon with its Thatcher coverage, with heated phone-ins illustrating just how much she divided the country. Many of Thatcher's policies did initially appeal to the Estuary half of Essex, the old East Enders who wanted to own their own council houses, get a satellite dish and new motor and work in the City, though when subsequent recessions and the banking crash of 2008 arrived they didn't like being sold a pup either. Like it or not, Mrs Thatcher and Essex are linked in the public consciousness. 

My parents loved her while I often felt like the only Labour voter in the village. Indeed my old local in Great Warley was called the Thatchers Arms, which visitors probably assumed was named after the Falklands War, though actually the name pre-dated the Thatcher Years by a few centuries. When I revisited Great Warley in 2010 to write The Joy of Essex there was still a tribal “Conservatives” poster on the village green. When Tony Blair was elected in 1997 Basildon was the key seat. And in 2012 David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband all visited Essex to try and claim the Essex vote. While the cast of Towie are surely children of Maggie, all eagerly starting their own businesses (Amy Childs is worth a cool £10 million) or advocating hard work in Attitude magazine as Kirk Norcross did, and some might say, like Mrs Thatcher, knowing the price of everything (but the value of nothing?). One of the undoubted legacies of Thatcherism is that Essex is now deemed the most totemic county in politics.